April Coppini is a Portland-based artist whose enduring subject is wild animals. She is known for her large, gestural charcoal drawings of foxes, deer, jackrabbits, moths and bees. Coppini is renowned for being able to breathe life into her charcoal depictions of the wild inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. Using only black charcoal and white paper, she makes images that are expressive, engaging and keenly observed in terms of their lifelike detail. She executes her drawings in a direct and physical way. Yet she never loses sight of the fragile beauty of the creatures she depicts. Coppini enables her viewers to experience the beauty of animals while at the same time asking them to be mindful of the need to protect the habitats that ensure their survival.
Rick Bartow (1946-2016) is one of Oregon’s most celebrated Indigenous artists. His work gained national recognition during his lifetime. For instance, his monumental cedar carvings We Were Always Here went on permanent display in 2012 outside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian overlooking the National Mall. The Museum exhibition opening January 26, Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain, celebrates and memorializes Rick’s extraordinary life. The exhibit’s time at the High Desert Museum marks its last Oregon appearance. It will include a rarely seen painting by Rick from the Museum’s permanent collection.
Rick’s sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints are an eloquent exploration of his identity. They remind us that identity is layered and complex. The art is an insightful expression of life as a struggle. Paint drips and gestural marks coexist with carefully rendered forms to create compositions that are as dynamic and beautiful as they are meaningful. Rick made art that is vibrant, physical and engaging. He effortlessly combined images of shamans, totems, talismans, masks and creation stories with ideas from Western philosophy. This diversity of subjects reveals Rick to be a person who deeply valued tradition but was also a voracious reader, a deep thinker and an amateur naturalist. He had an all-consuming passion for the physical world in all its messy and contradictory glory. Rick’s work reminds us that art is a powerful form of expression that transcends words and defies stereotypes.
The navigational feats performed by wildlife—whether as part of their daily, local activities or long-distance migrations—are arguably some of the natural world’s most awe-inspiring phenomena. The tiny rufous hummingbird, for example, deftly finds its way from wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
This new, interactive exhibition explores how such remarkable journeys are possible. Unlike us, other animals don’t have the benefit of maps and compasses, or do they? While many mysteries remain, scientists are steadily uncovering the secrets of navigation. Their findings suggest that different species are equipped with internal compass senses, intricate mental maps and other adaptations that enable them to stay on track. These mechanisms tell birds, mammals, fish and insects where they are and in which direction they are heading, even as they navigate the most testing terrains or places they have never seen before.
Human actions create some further challenges for animal navigators. For example, lights can obscure the night sky and completely disorient birds and other species. Thankfully, as we learn more about how animals navigate and how we are impacting their behavior, we also become better equipped to take effective conservation actions. This knowledge helps us to understand our own species, too, and how we might navigate using nature’s clues. Come and find out how in “Animal Journeys: Navigating in Nature.”
By Donald M. Kerr Curator of Natural History Louise Shirley